My fiancé, and I, had just purchased our first house together, in Addlestone, Surrey, U.K. It wasn’t a home, until we adopted Oscar and Charlie. Yes, my fiancé and I enjoyed each other’s company, however, there’s just something extra special about coming home to the greeting of an animal companion. Even the worst day, can be turned around with a cuddle from a furry friend.
Together, we went to Katz Castle and watched, as the cats played together in their pens. Oscar and Charlie were two of the older kittens in the shelter, and it seemed everyone else was interested in the babies. Also, it seemed sad to think of brother and sister being separated. We decided they would both come home with us.
For the next few months, we enjoyed watching them play together. Oscar was full of energy, and would tear around the house; often pouncing on his unsuspecting sister. Charlie remained gracious and rarely objected.
My husband, and I flew to Canada to be married, and after much consideration, we asked neighbours to visit, and care for the cats. We decided they would be happier together in their own home, as opposed to a cat hotel. Anyone with pets, knows how hard it is to leave them. The guilt generated as they stretch out in the suitcase, as if to say “no, please don’t go.” Oscar got out the front door, while we were away, and was hit by a car. We learned of this sad news soon after arriving home. I had walked into the house, excited to see Charlie and Oscar. I saw only Charlie, and realized immediately, something was wrong. I felt remorse for having left them, and tried to put on a brave face for our neighbours; they were, of course, also devastated.
Charlie seemed relieved that we were home, and stayed close by us as much as possible. She soon adapted to being an only child; playing solo with her toys, or staring us down until we picked up the end of a fuzzy mouse to participate in the game. She seemed content and happy to receive all the attention. Attention, not only from us, but also from Edith, the elderly neighbour next door.
A vast number of villages in England, are made up of ‘semi-detached’ houses, with non, soundproof ‘lean-to’s’ between properties on one side, and another residence on the other side. We lived in such a property. Edith, lived in the house next to us; our ‘lean-to’s’ adjoined. We used ours as a laundry room, and through-way from the front of the house to the back garden. The back door had been fitted with a cat-flap for Charlie. She never ventured far, and enjoyed lazing about in sunny spots. One day, I was folding clothes, and I heard Edith speaking in a sing-song voice to Charlie. “There you are Charlie Bear (our ‘pet’ name for Charlie), you’re a beautiful, spoiled girl; yes, you are. This cream makes your coat lovely and shiny, and you certainly do enjoy it.” And then, she laughed and continued her one-sided conversation, while, I imagined Charlie to be lapping up her cream, quite contentedly. Edith was from the south of England, the land of cream and scones. Only the most fatty of creams would do. Hardly surprising that Charlie was filling out! We noticed she had started to gain some weight and decided to cut down her meal portions. Now we knew, why it wasn’t making a difference.
Although Charlie had become heavier, it did not slow her down. I had just had a shower, and thankfully dressed before heading downstairs. As I approached the top of the stairs, Charlie appeared in the open window, across from me; in her mouth, was the biggest blackbird I had ever seen.
The sound a cat makes, when they are holding a prize, is hideous. Not, however, to be outdone by the noise emitted by said cat’s horrified guardian. My shrieking, did not achieve a desirable resolution. Instead of disappearing back out of the window, Charlie herself flew into the house, landing on the stairs. She continued to the bottom, and with one backwards glance; as if to sarcastically say “you’re welcome,” she disappeared out of the living room window.
My shrieking had turned into tears, as I watched this poor bird succumb to its’ wounds. Cats have a natural prey drive, and it doesn’t matter if you serve them all the cream in Devon, they won’t lose that natural instinct to hunt. Later, when the shock of it all subsided, I made a mental note to purchase more realistic toys. Perhaps that would work.
I had nearly made it to the bottom of the stairs, and was trying to figure out how I could avoid the scene of the murder, and make it to the living room. Our front door, and the stairway, were separated by a mere 3ft, by 3ft square; barely the wing-span of a Blackbird. As I stood there, in tears, the blurred vision of Edith, suddenly appeared, through the frosted glass in the door. She bent down and pushed open the mail slot in the door. “What’s happened”? She asked. As her gaze moved to the floor she realized what had, in fact, occurred. “Oh dear”, she fretted. Then, she disappeared around the corner, leaving me stranded. Just as quickly Edith reappeared. “Charlie, you naughty girl”, she scolded. I leaped from the third step up, into the bay window of the living room. Edith tried, unsuccessfully, to open the door. Latch-bolts seem like a great idea until you become stuck inside your house. “It’s no use”. “You’re going to have to get down and come open the door” she commanded. By now, a few of the neighbours had stopped tending their hedges, and were watching with curious anticipation. I placed my feet on the floor below the window, and thankfully they provided support to the ‘jelly-like’ legs attached. I leaned across the threshold and unlatched the door. Edith squeezed her way through the door – as if not to disturb any evidence, scooped the poor, expired bird, into a plastic carrier bag, and again, disappeared.
Thankfully, there was only one bird and this murder scene did not resemble the Brenner home, laden with blackbirds, from the Alfred Hitchcock movie. I suppose, however, not unlike the shock of being encircled by a flock of birds, this later experience might very well compare: A friend was visiting on this particular evening, and it had been raining for a little more than an hour, when we heard the first squeak. You see, Charlie loved playing with frogs, and when it rained, there were plenty of squeaky toys for her to choose from. I opened the door from the kitchen to the lean-to, picked up two toads and returned them to the garden. I didn’t think to lock the cat-flap.
Engrossed in conversation, an hour or so had passed before I heard the next squeak. Amused by this game, my friend Tina accompanied me to the back room. I opened the door and was horrified to find, what must have been every toad in town, in my laundry room. They started hopping into the kitchen. As we became surrounded, by a ‘knot’ of toads (that is the term for a large group), my friend suddenly remembered, she had to be somewhere, and quickly disappeared.
I could not remove the toads faster than Charlie would bring them in. After the shock turned into frustration, I came up with a solution; put Charlie on the other side of the closed door while I undid the knot, lock the cat-flap, wash my hands, and pour another, very large, glass of wine. To this day, when I hear a toad I remember that night.
Speaking of entertaining guests, Charlie, turned out to be quite the hostess also. I had invited a close friend, to stay with us, while she did some travelling around Europe. One morning, after my husband and I had left for work, Melissa wandered downstairs, for breakfast. Thinking she was still half asleep, she rubbed her eyes and purveyed the lounge a second time. I guess Charlie had also decided to have guests over. There, on each bum space of furniture, was a cat. Shaking her head, Melissa carried on to the kitchen. “I felt as if I was crashing the party”, she later commented.
Many adventures later, my husband and I moved to Canada; where I’m from. It was something we had been discussing for a few years, and one of the factors of course, was Charlie. We talked about leaving her with my mother-in-law; Bernie adored Charlie, and the feeling was mutual. I knew that Charlie would be loved, and very well cared for however, I could not bring myself to leave her. This girl was an adventurer, and no scaredy cat. As quarantine was not required, we decided to bring Charlie with us.
The plane ticket for our thirteen pound feline cost more than one of our tickets. She was our baby girl and so, after researching the best transport options for her, we picked up her special travel crate and prepared for the big move.
I had been offered a job, and left the week before my husband, to attend training. The following week, Charlie was delivered to the airport prior to my husband’s departure; however, she would not leave until the next day. This was to guarantee, her guardian would be at the airport waiting to meet, and collect her. We were very pleased with the service and consideration given to animal companions. Charlie’s travel companion was a beautiful black Labrador Retriever; they arrived at the airport at the same time, and came through arrivals in Toronto together.
When they arrived at our fully furnished, rented accommodation, Charlie wandered around, and explored this new environment before settling comfortably beside her dad, on the sofa. Charlie took everything in stride; this was just one of those things.
Over the years, we moved five more times, and adopted more family members; Ollie and Maggie, both feline, and dogs; Henry and Reese. Charlie was ‘mama bear’ to all, and each of them showed her the respect she deserved.
In later years, Charlie slowed down, and her cream-filled tummy slimmed down. We modified her diet, from kibble to soft food, accommodating her loss of teeth and, now delicate jaw. A diagnosis, of ‘hyper-thyroidism,’ required medication to be administered at each meal. Charlie continued to take everything in stride. Even though, she wasn’t as active these days, Charlie still enjoyed basking in the sunshine, and the occasional swipe at her toys, or whichever of the dogs walked across her path.
Sadly, on the Victoria Day weekend, Charlie’s health declined rapidly. She stopped eating, her eyes became dull, and she was lethargic. We encouraged her to eat, to no avail and the water we syringed into her mouth, found its way back out. We did not want to see her suffer, and after consulting the veterinarian, we made the very difficult decision to help her on to her next journey.
Charlie had an adventurous life, and enjoyed every new experience during her eighteen years. Now, she rests peacefully among the English Lavender in the garden.
In England, her home country, it is believed that black cats are lucky. “Charlie, our beautiful, tuxedo kitty – we certainly feel lucky to have had you in our lives. In time, the grief turns into reflection; the ability to enjoy the wonderful memories you helped us create. Thank you”.